"Step two," Dionysus began as he lead Aster out into the cella again, "is probably going to take a while, but it's also fun. Maybe not as fun as step one was." He winked.
Aster blushed furiously, still not quite processing everything that had just happened and was continuing to happen around her.
They emerged through the maze of columns to find that the temple's inner sanctum had taken on a much more lively and festive air since they left it. The little satyr band was playing off in their corner and had been joined by several more of their kind, who'd wandered in from the forests for the occasion. A few nymphs were scattered about them, perhaps the dates of the goat men lucky enough to trick them into coming along. Aster's soon to be former co-workers, the other priestesses, were already dancing and laughing near the image of their god. Pan was still there, of course, and seemed to be enjoying the show. Plenty of vessels full of wine were already much in presence, even if it was only early in the afternoon.
The other maenads presided over the hall, still reclined and waiting toward the back. They had donned their festival wear, and looked even more strange and fierce in their array of various animal skins. They only rose when the crowd acknowledged the return of their god and Aster. While they clapped and cheered, and the satyrs whistled some cat calls, the horned women stood quietly, and came to attend their master.
"Now we celebrate your ascendancy with the wine of men. That's step two," Dionysus explained.
Evanthe shuffled forth from the group to hand her a shallow drinking cup. It was empty, and the scene painted on its interior was one of a maenad with all the traditional symbols--staffs and snakes and all sorts of odd things. Aster stared at it for a moment before taking it.
"Come on now!" the Olympian urged, pushing her gently ahead of him. "This is your party. Someone get this girl a drink! Actually, let's make this even better."
He made his way over to a small fountain that bubbled off to the side of the cella. Grinning at his rapt audience, the god cupped his hands under the stream of water that trickled from the little jug a marble maenad was pouring. He gathered the water, and then went to take a sip. After just the smallest amount of water touched his lips, he flung the rest back into the fountain in a shower of sparkling drops. When they hit the water, they quickly stained it a deep burgundy, and wine flowed freely from the jug's spout. As the crowd of mortals and divine creatures alike cheered, Dionysus took the cup from a stunned Aster's hands and filled it himself--generously--before handing it back to her.
"Much better," he noted.
"Always the show off," Kallistrate commented, unimpressed as she handed him her own empty cup.
"Of course," he laughed as he filled it for her too. "I do my best. You look lovely. I haven't seen the lioness in a while."
The oldest looked down nonchalantly at the lioness' head, which was fiercely guarding one of her shoulders. "I suppose," she answered coolly, taking her cup.
Aster noted that the maenads had, as usual, gone into their age order. Roxanna held her cup out next. "I have to agree," she said slyly in Kallistrate's direction. "Everyone knows this is my favorite, though."
"A fearsome beast for a fearsome girl, hmm?" Dionysus joked at the tiger's skin she wore. "You'd be just as pretty wearing a kitten, but that would be even too cruel for you."
"Maybe not, I think I could pull it off," Roxanna replied a little too seriously as she took her cup.
"Oh, you still have your top on," the god noted with actual surprise as he turned to take Corrina's cup.
"I've only had one drink, my lord," she told him, with not an ounce of blush or embarrassment on her face.
"Since when has that made a difference?" he chuckled as he served her. Indeed, even though her outfit was intact, there wasn't much to the panther skin ensemble, not that she was ever seen in clothing that left much to the imagination.
Evanthe didn't immediately offer her cup as her turn came. Her eyes were glued to the floor, and the rest of her was buried beneath a huge bear skin. Dionysus lifted up the head, which seemed to consume all of hers beside the deer horns. "Now, now. You can't hide from me under there," he said gently. "I want you to drink and laugh again with us. Will you do that for me tonight, Evanthe?"
"If that's what you wish, my lord," she replied dutifully, holding out her cup.
"It is," he said simply when he handed it back to her.
Finally, Lysandra eagerly handed him her cup, smiling prettily up at him as if she were five years old.
"That's a new one. Zebra?" Dionysus noted at her painfully obvious attempts to show off her own attire.
"Yes. Do you like it my lord?" she asked, looking as if her heart hung on his very answer.
Nervously, the god replied. "Oh, of course. Very exotic..."
Though it was terrible, this was enough to convince her of his adoration. Lysandra beamed as she received her wine.
"The rest of you can help yourselves. Eat, drink, and be merry my children! Today is a day for life's great pleasures!" Dionysus told the crowd.
He left the fountain and smoothly swept an arm around Aster's shoulders. The god guided her and the rest of the maenads over to the couches and cushions they'd lazily emerged from. They settled back onto them again. The three elder maenads clustered onto a pile of pillows, while Evanthe sipped her wine at the far end of one couch, Dionysus pulled Aster onto one with him, and Lysandra looked jealously at them from a plush ottoman.
"How's the wine, ladies?" he asked.
"Divine," Roxanna said sarcastically, rolling her eyes at her own pun. "I'm ready for step three, personally."
"Oh you always are," the Olympian laughed.
Aster snapped out of her daze enough to realize she hadn't tasted it yet, and took a tentative sip.
"Wow, this is really good," she blurted out, amazed.
"Seriously, wait until step three," Roxanna reiterated.
"Is it hot in here? I think it's pretty hot in here," Corrina asked.
"Oh no, not yet," Lysandra lamented as she watched the other maenad's hands wander to the straps of her top.
Afternoon became evening, and as the sun's rays stopped peering in-between the pillars of the wine god's temple, torches took their place and illuminated the party, which had grown livelier as the hour grew later. Aster lazily peered at Pan, who had convinced a beautiful nymph to dance with him, well, if that could be called dancing. She'd call it goat grinding, if she had to think of a name.
"Aren't you cute?" a still not naked Corrina commented, popping in front of her with yet another cup of wine. Her modesty had only been spared by constant begging from Lysandra that she try to be decent for the guests' sake.
"What?" Aster asked, half startled.
"All flushed and drunk," she giggled, fondly poking one of the soon to be maenad's cheeks.
"Positively adorable," Dionysus added as he came back from a round of socializing.
That, of course, didn't make it any better.
Over on the cushions, Roxanna lazily flopped down and rolled over onto Kallistrate's lap. "I'm bored of dancing now. Let's do something!"
"Like what?" Lysandra asked smartly, her words a coming a little slower and sloppier than usual. "I'm having a great time."
"I don't know," Roxanna said. She flipped her empty cup about in her hands with a deftness that you couldn't expect from a girl that had drained it from full at least five or six times. "Drinking games?"
A shriek rang out across the cella before anyone could reply. They all looked to find the source, but instead found Pan charging over to them. "I heard drinking games!" he bellowed enthusiastically as he jogged.
Behind him, the nymph he'd been dancing with lay shocked on the floor, completely abandoned in the middle of their dance.
Dionysus looked at him with scolding eyes.
"What?" the balding creature asked.
Instead of berating him, the god smiled and caught him in bear hug. "I can't stay mad at you!" he said as he squeezed the satyr.
Pan wriggled impatiently in his grasp. "Games now! Hugs later!"
"Hugs always," Dionysus proclaimed, "but I think a game or two is a grand idea. Any favorites of yours, priestess? This is your night, after all."
Aster froze. "Honestly, my lord, I don't really know many games. Well, I've played them, but I don't remember the rules to most of them by the time they're over."
Pan laughed lecherously at this. "That's how it goes when you're young. We'll just have to teach you now, won't we? That's gotta be one of your manead-ly duties anyway."
"Let's play Kottabos," Roxanna suggested as she spun her cup on the tip of one finger.
"We always play Kottabos, and you always win," Lysandra whined.
"And the problem with that is...?" Roxanna asked with a feral grin.
"That you've had hundreds of years of practice," Dionysus reminded her. "Let's play something new. Have you learned anything fun in your travels, old man?" he asked Pan.
The goat man contemplated the question seriously. "Hmm, there is one I found some youths playing in Thrace. Actually, that was a good one."
"Well, what do they call it?" Dionysus demanded.
"Trying to remember. Wine and something with a p. Prone, prong? Oh! Pong!" he exclaimed.
"What kind of word is that even?" Lysandra asked.
"Hey I didn't invent it, though I might take credit for it if it does catch on," the satyr said. "Oh you'll love it, Dio. Let me set up for it!" Just as fast as he'd charged over, the ugly god ran off again and began harassing people for their empty cups.
Dionysus looked after him with a fond smile, but then started to look about the room. "Where did Corrina go all of the sudden?"
"She was just here," Roxanna said, sitting up to look.
They couldn't seem to find her until Lysandra let out a tired sigh. Everyone looked to where her golden eyes had come to rest, and there was Corrina, coming back to them with another cup of wine for herself, and without her top.
"Now it's officially a party," Dionysus laughed.
Roxanna seemed unphased. "So what happened to it this time?" she asked Corrina.
The ram-horned maenad shrugged, looking honestly more comfortable without it.
Behind her, Pan hopped on top of the wine fountain. He hoisted a soaked trophy over his head with one hand, made of a very familiar-looking panther skin, and with the other gave a thumbs up.
As the torches dimmed, bodies could be found sprawled in corners and around columns, some awake and engaged in things that usually happened behind closed doors, many others already passed out and well beyond their limits. Many drinking games later, the seasoned maenads were scattered, but certainly not yet done with the night. The satyr band had been reduced to one lyre player, whose stubby fingers were plucking a happy, but slow melody softly.
Dionysus presided over the hall with a blissful smile, his cup nearly forgotten in his own hand. "Well, I think we're done here for now. Pan, go gather up the girls again," he commanded the goat man without taking his eyes off of the party as it winded down.
Pan had conveniently just returned from some mischief himself, on the back of the poor Fat Pegasus no less. His goat jug was now held on a string suspended from a stick, dangling inches from the winged horse's snout. The creature's eyes were wild as he sniffed after the wine within, desperately licking out with a large tongue to taste it. "Aw, already? I guess the mortals have had enough. They don't party down here like we do on Olympus, huh?"
"I'm sure they would if they could, old man. Find me some girls with horns and the one that will be getting them tonight. Hopefully she isn't passed out somewhere too," the god lamented briefly.
"Nah, that Aster girl is made of tougher stuff than the rest. She'll make a good maenad, at least better than that stupid Iola," Pan commented as he generously tilted the jug to Fat Pegasus's snout and let him have a well-earned drink.
"Aw come on now. She was my loyal follower, if you recall," Dionysus pouted. "And don't let Evanthe hear you say that. Thank you for reminding me to tell the new one to avoid sleeping with Zeus."
"He's a tricky bastard. Most of the time they don't know it until it's too late, but hey, his example is the reason you don't see me running around with a wife in tow, am I right?" He paused to reach out for a fist pump, but Dionysus was still too busy looking out over his drunken guests. "Well, I guess I'll get them."
Pan pushed the jug away from Fat Pegasus' face again, and the rotund horse lunged for it again, his hooves clapping loudly against the marble floor.
He found Corrina first, dancing by herself to the lyre's song. After a chuckle, he reached behind him for the panther skin top that rested on the Fat Pegasus flanks and swatted the maenad with it. "Business time, you minx. You might want this."
"But I'm dancing," she protested, heedless of the world, and the fact that she had been topless for hours.
"Boss says so. Believe me, I'd watch you dance like this all night, but we have to get on with this," Pan told her.
That stopped her. Corrina froze, and her happy eyes grew cold as they settled on Pan. "You would watch all night, wouldn't you? Give me that."
He snatched it away briefly before offering it again. Corrina snatched her top with a sudden urgency. The goat man just laughed. "Of course! You put on such a good show!" he retaliated as he rode away.
His eyes caught Evanthe next, huddled in her bear skin not too far from the lone musician. Pan straightened up, despite his belly full of wine, and tried to look dashing. He rode up to her and offered her a grubby hand. "Your chariot awaits, my lady. Time to get on with the ceremonies," he said.
Evanthe stared blankly up at him for a moment before looking away.
"Do it for the boss, at least," Pan begged. "He really hates seeing you like this."
"If I must," she whispered from beneath the furry hood.
"You don't have to do anything, you know, but it'd be nice. We're all sorry about Iola, really. I even think the new girl is, but you gotta move on. The others know what its like. You're young yet, but you'll understand after maybe a hundred more years," Pan told her, trying his very best to be sympathetic.
It didn't work, especially since half of it sloshed out of his mouth unintelligibly. Evanthe stormed off to Dionysus' side all the same, but without a word to the satyr.
Pan shrugged and moved on, swinging his jug in the direction of a familiar voice.
"And so I can make her do all my chores?" Roxanna asked.
"What chores?" Kallistrate asked back, with the barest hint of amusement in her cold voice.
"Hah. Good one. You know what I mean, though," she said.
The old one then said, "You'll still have to do your job at the festivals. We all do, but of course you can push her around. That's what you do, isn't it?"
After a nefarious giggle from Roxanna, the two went quiet, just as Pan found them hidden amidst the maze of columns. As quietly as possible, the satyr dismounted his noble steed and shoved his head into the jug to muffle the slurping. He tip toed, or rather, tip hoofed over to the maenads as they were engaged, mostly in each others mouths, but with a little groping here and there for good measure. Just as they were about to break their kiss, Pan loomed over them as much as he could for his short stature, getting his face inches from where theirs met. "Kiss deep, ladies, kiss deep," he whispered.
Roxanna jumped back nearly a foot, almost tripping over herself. Kallistrate, as expected, was completely unshaken, and stood above the satyr looking thoroughly annoyed.
"You fucker!" Roxanna screeched, moving to pounce on the fat god.
Pan held his hands up as he laughed, covering himself and waving to signal that he came in peace. "Relax, girls. You're uptight even when you've had a whole barrel to yourself. The boss wants you all to continue on with this initiation business. Go to him in the cella," he instructed.
"We are not through here," Roxanna threatened, even though she stopped in mid charge. Her and Kallistrate went obediently to their god, though the tiger-clad one did turn around to make faces at Pan as they went.
Pan was busy making faces back at her when Lysandra found him. "Pan! Where is our lord?" she demanded. He turned to find her holding up a grinning, but exhausted-looking Aster.
"Out in the cella, waiting for you. How's the little one?" he asked, eying the initiate skeptically.
"Just about done. We need to get to step three, like, an hour ago. I'm tired of babysitting," Lysandra objected as she hoisted Aster up again.
"That's what I got sent to tell you we're doing. Throw her on the horse, will ya?" Pan leapt back onto Fat Pegasus again, and nimbly steered him over to the two girls.
Lysandra didn't object. She helped Aster up onto the animal's wide back with some help from Pan. It was clear that Aster wouldn't quite make it if she had to walk on her own. Despite her earlier aversion, she even wrapped her arms around Pan's hairy waist, and giggled softly into his round shoulder.
"Mortals are hilarious," he commented, smiling back at her, and carried her off to the Olympian again.
"Oh dear," Dionysus said as he saw them approach.
"Yup, she's wasted," Pan responded bluntly. "I guess that means we're all good here?"
"Certainly," the wine god agreed. "They'll go on without us. Outside, girls. Time for step three."
"And then step four!" Roxanna proclaimed, sounding more excited than she had all night.
Dionysus chuckled as they followed him out into the Athenian night, Pan bringing up the rear with his plump mount and Aster. "So which is it that you like more, three or four?" Dionysus asked.
"Well, three leads to four, doesn't it? Honestly, I can't choose. That's too hard," Roxanna told him earnestly.
"That's what I look for in my girls, a love of good wine and no aversion to violence. Actually, that reminds me. Oh little Aster, can you still speak, or have we drowned you to the point of being mute?" he asked over his shoulder.
"I'm still awake, my lord," she mostly slurred in response.
"Good. I never got around to asking you before, so I'll ask you now. Why was it that you accepted my offer to become a maenad?" the god asked. "Most priestesses turn me down, you know."
"To think that mortals would be bold enough to even turn down any chance at virtual immortality! Especially one coming from such a handsome bastard as this one!" Pan shouted at the stars.
Aster was surprisingly quick to respond. "I don't think I'm really all that good at being a mortal, my lord. My family hated that I decided to spend my life worshiping you instead of marrying some man of their choosing and popping out his kids. I thought that would let me be free, let me live life how I wanted and enjoy it in my own way, but even in my priestess' robes, the people around the city still expect me to be something I'm not. They don't look at the maenads that way, though. Everything all of you do, every time you appear on the streets, they are just enchanted by you."
"Then you want the adoration of the people?" he pried.
"No, my lord. I want to be above their rules, and their stupid expectations of how women should just be happy locked up in a house and pregnant," she told him.
Dionysus laughed deeply at this, and stopped until she was in line with him, still slumped against Pan's back despite her defiant speech. He patted her head fondly. "You'll do," he said simply, then strode off again toward a copse of trees on the side of the hill. "This will work for now."
With that, he reached up and broke a branch off of one of the limbs above him. The god ran his hand over the stick, and as he did it straightened and lengthened into a staff that was all too familiar to most of the crowd. A crown of leaves and a pine cone topper were all that decorated the simple branch, but this was the maenad's tool, a deceptively plain ornament. With this in one hand, Dionysus held his other out to Aster while her soon to be sisters formed a circle beneath the trees. A hush drew over them that left even Pan silent, and the priestess did her best to stay steady on her feet as she took the god's hand and dismounted Fat Pegasus. Pan tossed the jug into some bushes, shooing the horse creature away as he chased after it.
Dionysus wordlessly handed Aster the staff, and placed her in the circle between himself and Lysandra. "On to step three. You have the love of a god, and are clearly full of the wine of men, but, my dear Aster, now you need the wine of a god."
The maenads peered up eagerly at him, but that last bit only left the priestess drunkenly confused.
Dionysus went on. "We don't do this often, in fact, I usually reserve such a drink for special occasions, or when it's needed. Today qualifies for both." He cupped his hands again, but this time there was no water, no fountain tricks to be performed for the crowd. Instead, he was still and solemn for a moment, and then tipped his hands toward Aster to offer her a drink of the slightly iridescent golden liquid that had appeared in them. "Drink, priestess, and be free."
She hesitated for just a moment, trying to ground herself in the world. It spun around her, the stars becoming long strips over the fuzzy lights of Athens, but she told herself one last time that she wanted this. She wanted to be something more, something above the dull and confined world that had borne her. Aster took a sip, and it tasted like nothing she'd ever had before. She gasped audibly as she pulled away and licked her lips. None of the others laughed. They were too busy waiting with jealous eyes.
Dionysus offered them each a drink in turn, starting with the oldest again. By the time he got to Lysandra, Aster didn't feel drunk anymore. Instead of lines and blurs, the lights became sharp and focused. Her muscles ached to move and pressed hotly against her skin. Her heart hammered against her ribs, begging for action, begging to be let loose from its prison inside of her and to join the whole world around her. Sounds of the night were not routine and quiet, but a chorus of beautiful music, of instruments no one had yet imagined and wouldn't for thousands and thousands of years. Her eyes darted around, and if she could have seen them, she would have watched them turn to gold.
"There's just one more thing," Dionysus said gently as he lifted her chin to make her look up at him. In her changing vision, he blurred between ma, bull,and a man-shaped bundle of vines with plump, ripe grapes. "Eternity in my service comes at a price, Aster. You will do my bidding, even if you may not know it, or may not want to. You might be above their rules, but you will always be under mine. Now is the last time you can defy me, because after this moment, it just won't be possible."
It took all her willpower not to squirm away from him and run off to throw herself to the world and all its pleasures, but Aster stood still gazing up at him, breathing hard with the effort. "I will do all you ask, my lord," she told him.
"Good. When I was a boy, Aster, do you know what the people of this world did to me? They denied my godhood. They told me I couldn't be the child of Zeus himself, that I was nothing but a heretic. How cruel is that, huh? Most people recognize now that I was created to bring them great pleasure and create ways for them to ease the suffering in their lives, but some still deny me, even now in this great learned city. That brings us to step four, the last one you need. Would you like to know what that is?" he asked, the grin he worn now starting to sport fangs in Aster's darting sights.
"What is it, my lord? Tell me! Tell me that I might be yours!" she demanded. She couldn't help herself. Aster felt like she could just explode into a sky full of stars, or like a grape full of sticky juice to be made into wine. Her skin felt just as thin, just as fragile, barely able to contain what was beneath it.
"It's the blood of men, my dear. The love of a god, the wine of men, the wine of a god, and now the blood of men. For me, Aster. Show them just how divine I really am," he commanded, and let her chin slip out of his fingers. An unearthly shriek rang out out behind her, and she lost her fight with whatever it was that was bubbling up inside of her.
The next thing she knew, Aster was waking up on a giant pillow with a headache, though not the kind she expected. "Ow," she winced as the morning light slipped in between her eyelids. That wasn't what hurt her. That was on the very top of her forehead, and she reflexively went to rub it to relieve the pain. Her hand hit something hard, something that was not skin or hair. Aster's eyes flew open, and she grabbed wildly at her own head, struggling to remember the night before. She had horns now. She could feel them.
As she rubbed the bony nubs that now rested on her crown with an eerie fascination, Aster tried harder to remember the previous day. A lot had happened, and not just a morning of crazy god sex and an afternoon of far too much wine. After that, everything was fuzzy, but then it hit her. There were bright flashes, more vivid than life could ever be, sprinkled in that blackness. More feelings than complete memories, she felt her hands hot and soaking with something, and she had the taste of iron lingering in her mouth. She looked down at herself to find that she was out of her animal skin attire and had somehow ended up in a fresh, simple toga-like dress. She couldn't make sense of it all.
Around her, the maenads were lazily going about their morning routine. Lysandra stood over a tray of fruit, angrily berating a temple slave for not arranging it just to her liking. Evanthe was seated on a cushion, holding horn on her necklace and staring at it. Corrina was no where to be found in the bright chamber, but she soon ran in chasing Pan, who was holding her clothes hostage, this time all of them. Kallistrate still slept, and Roxanna was giggling at her as she stretched on top of the pillows next to her.
Confident that they were all too occupied to care, Aster raced over to their giant standing mirror to examine her new horns. She had to bite her lip when she saw her reflection to keep from screaming. The eerie, inhuman eyes that she had always quelled from were now hers as well, staring back at her with their faint gold glow. Two tiny, almost formless stubs of horn peaked out from her crown, too small still to reveal what animal they might belong to.
"Aw! They're so little!" Corrina admired as she appeared behind her, still naked but triumphantly holding her clothes. "I can't even remember when mine were that little," she noted casually before walking off to grab an apple off the tray, heedless of the argument going on over it.
Aster touched her face in disbelief. It would look this way for eternity, young and pretty, but at the same time fierce and wild. She was no longer human. She was something more.
The warm flesh beneath her fingers stirred up more vivid feelings, sounds of tearing and screaming, bright flashes of red and of terrified faces.
"Good morning ladies!" came a call from the entrance. Aster looked up to see a strange figure. A young man in purple robes that looked like he'd somehow ended up a male maenad as a prank by the gods, or something. From his long and flowing hair came two bull's horns, curving out in front of his skull. "You're all looking lovely today, especially you, Aster."
She didn't know this horned man, or why he would know her name.
"What's wrong? Don't you like your horns?" he asked, looking concerned.
It dawned on her then that she did know his voice, and her too full head finally put it together that this was her god, undisguised by the mortal figure he had to use so as not to cause his subjects to be killed by his divine grandeur. "Oh, uh, no. No I like them, that is. I just, just woke up and saw them, my lord, so I'm, uh, a little shocked I guess," she finally blurted out.
"You get used to them," he said with a shrug and laugh, pointing to his own, and then went over to steal some grapes from the tray as the slave, now in tears, was carrying it out again.
Aster's gaze drifted back to the mirror, and as she poked at her new horns again, she tried to make her mind work. She remembered drinking the wine from his hands, and the sudden feeling of needing to be everywhere, everything, and everyone at once that had filled her. There had to be something after that. That wasn't where it ended.
She remembered feeling the wind rush by her, no she was running. They were all running. Her head was hurting, but she was too alive to care. She had to chase him. They were all chasing him.
The man screamed as he ran down the empty streets. The smart citizens of Athens had all locked their doors and hid, but a few that didn't fear the wrath of the gods had been brave enough, or stupid enough, to keep to the streets. They chased him. They chased him because he did not fear their god. They laughed as they ran, faster and faster, winding through dark streets and closing in on their prey. They laughed.
Roxanna sprung from the pack, reaching out with deadly precision. She went after the man's leg, like a hunting cat trying to slow and cripple its pray. She didn't need her teeth, though, or even the demonic horns on her head. Roxanna grabbed his ankle, and tore out the tendon with her bare hands. The denier collapsed, screaming in pain, begging them to stop already.
With practiced swiftness, Kallistrate and Corrina joined her, and the three of them held the man up again and pinned him to a wall. He kicked and struggled, and Evanthe and Lysandra did not wait to be asked to take his legs. A mere look from Kallistrate's wild eyes was enough. This just left her peering at Aster, waiting.
"Show him," the eldest maenad demanded. "Show him what happens to those that do no fear the gods, to those that do not appreciate all our lord does for them."
Aster knew what to do. She needed no sword, no hoplite's spear, not even a butcher's knife. Hands were enough. With a strength that was new to her, and savagery that made her sick to remember, Aster tore at his exposed stomach with nothing but greedy, wanting fingers. They ripped and ruptured skin and muscle, and kept going even as they became slippery with blood. All the while, the man screamed and screamed and the maenads laughed. Aster laughed loudest of all, louder than his screams, and she kept going even as his screams gurgled away, and a pile of his innards lay at her feet, steaming.
Yet there she was, staring at herself in the mirror, pretty and clean. Her horns and strange eyes and all that came with them was truly a blessing straight from a god, but it wasn't given for nothing. He'd warned her, but Aster didn't know what exactly she was in for. She stared at her clean hands, now wishing she hadn't remembered the flesh and blood they'd torn from her victims the night before. This was the price she would pay for all these gifts. Her service truly belonged to the Dionysus now, and for the rest of her long, long life.
The horned god crouched beside her in front of the mirror and placed his bunch of grapes in her hands. "I didn't say it would be easy, did I? It's really best not to get caught up in the scary bits. There is too much of life that is meant for love and pleasure, but those who don't appreciate that don't deserve it. That's all there is to it," he said. He kissed her on the cheek and briefly rubbed one of her horns, saying nothing more.